CFPB Calls Out Banks Over Secret Marketing Deals on College Branded Cards
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Wednesday named ten banks and credit unions that it says have not provided adequate information about their agreements with large universities where they sell financial products to students. "We decided to take a look at the financial institution partners of a group of some of the largest universities in America members of the Big Ten conference to see if they've disclosed agreements on their websites," said CFPB student loan ombudsman Rohit Chopra. The Big Ten now comprise 14 universities and enroll more than a half a million students.
The concern is that when student hit campus, one of the first things they'll need is a credit and/or debit card. Cards with a school logo are an immediate draw. Those logos, however, are a sign that the school and the card vendor have revenue sharing and other agreements which may not benefit the userand may not be disclosed.
In December of 2013, the CFPB found that colleges and universities were making payments to financial institutions which it described as secret agreements to market deposit accounts, pre-paid cards and other financial products to students. A February Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that schools and card providers "encouraged enrollment" in campus-branded cards "rather than present neutral payment options."
The GAO also found that at least 852 schools, or 11% of U.S. colleges and universities had agreements to provide debit or pre-paid cards to students. Most are big institutions, together representing about 40% of the nation's post-secondary students.
"We're calling on financial institutions to voluntarily make these agreements available on their websites," said Chopra. "If you're a student preparing to head back to campus, you may encounter offers from banks and other companies that promote debit cards, prepaid cards, bank accounts, and other products branded with your school's name or logo. When your school makes a deal with a company to market a financial product, it's important for you to have basic information about this agreement."
In the Big Ten study, only the University of Iowa branded cards were deemed to have an adequate disclosure agreement on the issuer's Website. The school's financial partner is Hills Bank & Trust Company of Hills, Iowa.
The CFPB found three others that it said made partial contracts available online. The University of Illinois had sections that included terms for using campus and banks logos for university-branded financial products. The University of Michigan agreement is 44 pages long and includes a schedule of student fees. It also has a page with payments the bank makes to the university to market its cards, although the number is redacted.
The University of Minnesota contract runs 90 pages and includes the bank's marketing fees--also redacted. All three had signature pages with bank and university officer sign-offs. The financial provider for each one is TCF National Bank of Minneapolis.